A chronology of civilian rescue at sea

Tens of thousands of people drowned while fleeing in the Mediterranean. Instead of rescuing people, civilian sea rescuers are increasingly blocked and criminalized. Here I have written a chronicle of the civilian sea rescue of the past years.


Silvio Berlusconi and Muammar al-Gaddafi concluded an agreement in 2008. Friendship treatyBerlusconi apologised on behalf of Italy for colonial crimes and Gaddafi undertook to set up his own coastguard and to repatriate boats carrying refugees. Italy subsequently trained and equipped the Libyan coast guard. While individual member states are already trying to make the European migration policy and refugee defence more transparent, the beyond European borders Sync and corrections by n17t01 organize, used Libya under Gaddafi, exploited its importance for European border policy in order to demand economic and political quid pro quos. In the following years, over a thousand people were intercepted on boats by Italian authorities, sent to Libya and handed over to the authorities there. In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights found this practice unlawful. In the case Hirsi Jamaa et al. it was decided that pushbacks violate the prohibition of inhuman treatment and the prohibition of collective expulsion. 
In 2011, protests spread across several states, which eventually became known as the Arab Spring in the history of the world. A brutal civil war started in Libya. Many people fled to Europe at the risk of their lives. During this time, despite a international military operation the establishment of a naval blockade and a no-fly zone, and NATO-presence led to many deaths in the Mediterranean because there were no serious state efforts to rescue people at sea.


October 3, 2013 marks 23 years of reunification in Germany, and with it the won right of millions of people in the GDR to move freely. On the day 368 people drown at Europe's external borders off Lampedusa beach. A week later, more than 200 people drownedafter a boat is not rescued for a long time despite distress calls. In response to the many deaths and the deaths, Italy launches the sea rescue operation 'Mare Nostrum', 'our sea', in November. In one year it rescues 130,000 people in distress in the central Mediterranean.


Other European member states refuse to provide funds for the rescue of the people and to agree on a solidarity-based distribution of the rescued people, which is why Italy suspends the operation. Mare Nostrum' is followed by 'Triton'. Proactive rescue of people in need turns into border control. The operation led by Frontex rescues significantly fewer people, which is also the intention: the then German Interior Minister Thomas De Maziére claims that 'Mare Nostrum' was terminated because it turned out to be a 'Bridge to EuropeThe EU is not creating safe and legal escape routes. The EU does not create safe and legal escape routes and thus continues to force people onto life-threatening routes.


In order to stop watching the deaths in the Mediterranean, the sea rescue organisation was founded in 2015 Sea Watch and is sending its ship to the Mediterranean on 20 June 2020, World Refugee Day, to find sea rescue cases and organise help. Médecins Sans Frontières is also setting out to save lives. Since the EU Commission and the member states are unwilling to organise a European coordinated sea rescue, it is now privately organised organisations financed by donations that save people from dying in the Mediterranean. This is not meant to be a long-term solution, because humanitarian aid in the Mediterranean should actually be organised by the state.


Now the NGOs are coming SOS Mediterranée, Proactiva Open Arms, Sea-Eye and Youth Saves, which Boat Refugee Foundation and Save the Children and send ships to the Mediterranean to rescue people. But the Libyan Coast Guard – militias financed, equipped and trained by the EU as part of Operation Sophia, some of whom had previously smuggled people themselves and now smell a better deal as coast guards – are taking action against civilian sea rescue: 

"Armed militiamen had already threatened and boarded the Sea-Watch 2 on April 24, 2016, before endangering the ship and crew again on May 10, 2017, through a breakneck maneuver off its bow." Sea Watch explains. The Bourbon Argos will also shelled and boarded; the Sea-Eye speedboat Speedy with its crew to Libya hijacked.


The organizations are not intimidated by this. Instead, from now on Sea Watch observes with the search plane 'Moonbird' Human rights violations and emergencies in the Mediterranean.

The discourse is changing: right-wing populists blame smuggling for the misery on the Mediterranean and European camps and spread the lie that the sea rescuers cooperate with the smugglers. A prosecutor from Sicily claims to have proof of this. He could never prove his assumption. Now it has become known that the Sicilian prosecutor's office has been monitoring journalists and activists since 2017 to an extent that would otherwise only have been possible against the Mafia and terrorism is being applied. The authorities are focusing on journalist Nancy Porsia. According to Andrea di Pietro, lawyer of the Italian Journalists Association, the one of "the most serious attacks on the press in the history of our country."

In July 2017, Italian authorities attempted to force sea rescue NGOs to make a Code of Conduct to sign. "Jugend rettet" refuses to sign this code of conduct, which contained various right-wing populist prejudices. Only two days later their ship, the Iuventa, is seized. The scientific service of the Bundestag declares the Code of Conduct for illegal under international law. As a result of increasing criminalisation, intimidation and restriction, some NGOs withdrew from the Mediterranean. 

The central sea rescue control centre in Rome, the MRCC, is beginning to limit cooperation with civilian ships and instead to assign more cases to the 'Libyan Coast Guard'.. More and more people are being pushed out of distress at sea back to Libya, where they are Torture, slavery and murder threaten. Through their policy, the EU Commission and the Council are complicit and violate the law by cooperating with Islamist militias. against international law.


In 2018, the crew of the Open Arms refuses to hand over rescued people to the Libyan authorities. The ship is banned from entering Italy and is briefly impounded. Salvini becomes interior minister and closes Italian ports to civilian sea rescue ships. Other states follow suit: Malta also restricts entry into its ports, the Netherlands withdraws the Lifeline's flag. 

At the same time hundreds of thousands of people declare their solidarity with the sea rescue NGOs: The Piern alliance is formed and speaks out against the criminalization of those who help and for a migration policy based on solidarity that deserves its name. 
Nevertheless, further ships have had their flags withdrawn and proceedings initiated against them. The Aquarius is being investigated for alleged illegal waste disposal. Clothing and hygiene products of the rescued are considered toxic waste. On the ships that may be in operation, Wait many people are waiting to be allowed to land in a safe port. But EU member states are struggling to define their responsibilities, taking nearly three weeks to agree on the distribution of just 32 rescued people from the Sea-Watch 3. some. Similar procedures are repeated, so that the work of NGOs was massively hindered.


Operation Sophia will end in 2019 because it has rescued too many people from distress at sea. The crew of the Turkish tanker El Hiblu 1 rescues 108 people from distress off Libya and wants to bring them back to Libya. However, three Afghan youths manage to convince the crew and bring the rescued people to a safe European port. They are taken as El Hiblu 3 known and arrested for months. Maltese authorities initiate a trial against them on suspicion of terrorism. They face life imprisonment for successfully protesting a pushback against international law.

In summer, new ships sail to the Mediterranean and rescue hundreds of people in a short time. In June, the Sea Watch 3 declares a state of emergency, to which there is no response for over 60 hours. There is no longer enough water on board and the psychological strain on the people on board increases. Captain Carola Rackete finally defies orders and brings the ship to a port in Lampedusa. As a result, in Italy. apprehended.

Also the crew of the Alex by the Italian Maritime Rescue Organisation Mediterranea defies the Italian authorities because of an unsustainable health and hygiene situation. In September, the Mare Jonio to Italy. Although the crew claims to have docked in Italy with the permission of the Italian coast guard, the ship is confiscated and the organisation has to pay a fine of €300,000.


In February 2020, the two crews of Sea Watch 3 and the Mare Jonio will receive honorary citizenships from the Mayor of Palermo. Sea Watch sends out with the Seabird a new aircraft over the Mediterranean capable of covering an area the size of Brandenburg. 

Corona is making the situation more difficult for civilian rescue at sea. In order to do something about the inhumane conditions at the EU's borders, many people, including myself, are calling for the Leave no One Behind campaign. This solidarity network works to protect people whose well-being and safety are not taken care of by states or the EU. 

The EU mission starts in April Irini as the successor to the Sophia mission. The aim is to expand the so-called Libyan coast guard and to review the arms embargo against Libya – Sea rescue is not part of the mandate. Under pressure from Italy, even the part of the Mediterranean where most people are in distress at sea is being bypassed so as not to have to rescue them.  

The Alan Kurdi must ten days waiting for the assignment of a safe harbor. The crew has previously rescued 150 people from distress at sea. There are two suicide attempts. One person requires urgent medical attention. Similar cases occur on other ships. Meanwhile, the Moonbird observes pushbacks to Libya by the 'Libyan Coast Guard'.

Sea rescue is actively obstructed

In August, a post Louise Michel named ship of an anarcho-feminist collective into the Mediterranean Sea. It was financed and sprayed by Banksy. In the meantime, the Louise Michel even in distressafter rescuing 219 people. 33 of them are already housed on a life raft. One person is already dead, others suffer from severe fuel burns. The calls for help remain unanswered until the Sea Watch 4 and the Italian coast guard bring the people to Lampedusa. As early as September, the ship is moored in Palma de Mallorca. 

The longest stand-off ever occurs: a Danish oil tanker, the Maersk Etienne, rescues 27 people from distress at sea in August. Entire 38 days the people on the ship have to hold out. Food and drink become scarce. Out of desperation, three people jump into the sea, but can be rescued again. 

In September, the European Commission will present its proposal for a new Migration Pact in the future. Although the Commission recommends that sea rescue NGOs should not be criminalised any further, it does not provide for any binding measures for their protection and for state-organised sea rescue. Overall, no improvements can be expected from the proposal; on the contrary, it would worsen the situation of refugees.

In 2020, a total of eight sea rescue organisations are on the Mediterranean Sea, unfortunately mostly only for a short time, sometimes they are not in action at all due to the pandemic and blockades.


In March 2021, after 3.5 years of investigations, charges will be brought against 21 sea rescuers from Jugend rettet, Ärzte ohne Grenzen and Save the Children. The accusation: Facilitation of unauthorised entry. This is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The cases against the Aquarius for illegal waste disposal and against the Open Arms for alleged illegal entry are also reopened. A raid takes place against Mediterranea. 

By July 2, this year already at least 773 people drowned while fleeing across the Mediterranean. That is more than in the same period in the past three years. The Sea-Eye 4, meanwhile, rescued more than 400 people during its past deployment. The Sea-Watch 4 rescued more than 450 people and is now being held in Italy on flimsy grounds. Doctors without Borders continues sea rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea - this time with our own chartered ship: The Geo Barents.

We need a European sea rescue programme

This overview is brief and far from complete. It shows important key points of the development of civilian sea rescue in recent years and how the political climate has changed. If you want to read more or get involved yourself, feel free to check out their pages, which we have linked to in the text. I stand firmly by the side of the sea rescuers. In the European Parliament, I am doing everything I can to create safe migration routes, to decriminalise civilian rescue at sea and to rely on European solutions based on solidarity. We need a European coordinated and financed sea rescue programme so that no person has to drown on the way across the Mediterranean.

Read more

  • 5 years of Sea Watch is no reason to celebrate. You can read their 5-year report here read up.
  • At Airborne Report Sea Watch documents the cooperation of the 'Libyan Coast Guard' and European authorities and their lack of assistance in sea emergencies. 
  • What happened on the Mediterranean from 2016-2018 logged SAROBMED.
  • The Migazin maintains a chronology of particularly bad shipping "accidents" in the Mediterranean. 
  • Statewatch analyses the anti-migration policy between Libya and the EU.
  • Max Pichl talks about the limits of the rule of law at Europe's borders.
  • Monitor reports on European borders with special support from Germany in Niger. 

History of European asylum policy since 1997

Over the past two decades, we have unfortunately come little closer to a humane and progressive asylum policy. Below you will find an overview of the Amsterdam Treaty via the Treaty of Lisbon to the current Commission proposal for a Common European Asylum System (GEAS), on which the Commission, Council and Parliament are currently working.

The Amsterdam Treaty is signed by the Heads of State and Government of the EU Member States in 1997 and enters into force two years later. It sets the course for a common European asylum policy: parts of asylum policy are declared to be a common policy area of the European Union by being incorporated into the supranational first pillar of the Community have been integrated. The aim is to approximate asylum policy and asylum law in the Member States. The Amsterdam Treaty also brings into force the first Dublin agreements is in force. This stipulates that only one EU member state is responsible for each asylum procedure. 

Tampere Special Cups 1999

The Tampere Special Summit is held in Finland in October 1999. The European Council adopts a programme for cooperation in the field of justice and home affairs for the next five years. Within this framework, the guidelines of a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is elaborated. Common criteria for granting refugee status on the basis of the Geneva Refugee Commission will be adopted. Agreements with countries of origin of those seeking protection and further measures are to enable more extensive control of migration movements.

The Dublin Agreement is revised in 2003. It is stipulated that, in principle, the country of first entry must conduct the asylum procedure and thus also examine the applications. This poses challenges for European border states such as Greece and Italy, while European states without an external EU border can largely escape responsibility under the agreement. Furthermore, with Dublin II the EURODAC database introduced. This will be used to collect and compare fingerprints of people seeking protection. Border controls are also being extended. Dublin II had the goal of harmonizing European asylum policy, but also aggravated the situation for protection seekers in Europe. 

The Hague Programme 2004

In 2004, at a special summit, the governments of the EU decide to continue the Hague Programme. It is based on the Tampere programme, of which it is the successor. The aim of the programme is to further restrict immigration. This is to be achieved with the help of agreements with countries of origin and transit. One focus will be on the deportation of people with rejected applications. At the same time, measures for legal migration and for the integration of third-country nationals are to be created. 

In addition, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency shall Frontex is launched. A common visa information system (VIS) collects and shares information on asylum applications and biometric data at EU level.2005 EU heads of state and government draw up the Global approach to migrationwhich aims to cooperate with countries of origin and transit outside the EU to prevent irregular migration. 

Asylum Procedures Directive 2006 and Lisbon Treaty 2009

One year later, the Council adopted Asylum Procedures Directive in force. It lays down principles and minimum standards of asylum procedures. The aim is to harmonise access to asylum procedures in the EU between the member states. The Asylum Procedures Directive defines who is recognised as a refugee or as a person in need of subsidiary protection. The exact decisions are here to read. In practice, however, harmonisation between the Member States is failing, which is already the enormous difference in recognition rates in the Member States. 

The Treaty of Lisbon enters into force in 2009 and strengthens the Powers of the European Parliamentwhich is now de facto a co-legislator with the Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers). Nevertheless, Parliament still has no automatic right of initiative. At the same time, the rights of the Member States are structurally preserved, which have a right of veto in the European Council. They are also still free to decide how many people they grant entry and work permits to. The Treaty will key areas of a common EU migration policy defined: The establishment of conditions for legal entry and residence and the rights of people from third countries, as well as the fight against trafficking in human beings and "irregular" migration.

Stockholm Programme 2010

With the Stockholm Programme from 2010-2014, which replaces the Hague Programme, will be followed by the development of Frontex and the enhanced cooperation of Europol and Eurojust with the Border Agency. The Entry-Exit System (EES) will be created to register non-EU citizens residing in the EU. This is a further step towards the creation of "smarter" borders. In addition, further readmission agreements are being concluded with countries of origin. At the same time, labour migration is being viewed more favourably as part of the solution to the skills shortage in Europe. 

In 2011, the Commission shall adopt the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM)which updates the approach written in 2005. Compared to the GAMM, the framework conditions for legal migration are improved and the right to asylum is strengthened. Labour migration in particular is to be facilitated. At the same time, border controls will be tightened and more restrictive measures introduced. More emphasis will be placed on readmission agreements with countries of origin. In addition, central competences in the granting of visas and asylum remain with the Member States. The GAMM represents a strategy with an impact on European foreign policy.

Dublin III from 2014

Dublin III comes into force in 2014. In addition to the nuclear family, uncles, aunts and grandparents are now also considered family members and the right to family reunification is extended to people with subsidiary protection status. Furthermore, mandatory interviews with applicants are introduced. Appeals against rejection decisions can from now on postpone deportations and refoulements to another member state. An advance warning and crisis management system will also be adopted. The Dublin procedure is extended to people applying for subsidiary protection and no longer only concerns people applying for refugee status. People who pose an "acute risk of absconding" can now be detained. Dublin III provides for accelerated procedures for people in detention. 

In 2013, the EU will begin, with the approval of the Council, to EU Border Assistance Mission cooperate with Libyan institutions, ostensibly to combat human and arms smuggling and further prevent migration to the EU. The goal is to send people back to their countries of origin. To this end, the EU is equipping the Libyan coast guard, training them and thus creating a paramilitary unit. These are partly Warlordswho often smuggled people themselves.

Beginning and end of Mare Nostrum and state-organised rescue at sea

In the same year, the EU calls Having regard to the support of the Parliament and the Council the monitoring system EUROSUR to monitor Europe's external borders using satellite data. National authorities must now coordinate their actions with each other and with Frontex. coordinate. In addition, the Italian Coast Guard launches Operation Mare Nostrumwhich in just one year 130,000 people lives in the Mediterranean Sea.

However, EU heads of government refuse to support the operation with resettlements. Therefore, a European coordinated rescue at sea from. Mare Nostrum will end in October 2014 and will be replaced by the Frontex operation. Triton replaced. Instead of rescuing people in distress at sea, the focus is on isolation. As a result, fewer people have been rescued in the Mediterranean. 

Khartoum Process 2014 and the cooperation with brutal dictatorships

The so-called Khartoum Process of 2014 is causing a stir, as the EU states here with Military dictators from Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan are working together. Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia are also involved in the process. With the justification of wanting to prevent the causes of flight, the EU Commission is working here with repressive dictators from whom people are fleeing and who in some cases have very high recognition rates in EU states.

Following disasters in the Mediterranean, a special summit of the Commission and EU Heads of State and Government will be held in 2015. 10-point plan was adopted. Funds for Frontex sea rescue will be increased to respond to the increasing number of refugees in distress at sea. Further measures against smuggling will be adopted and Frontex will be given further competences. Also the Application area of the agency will be increased. People are to be deported more quickly with the help of Frontex. Cooperation between EU security authorities will also be stepped up. 

European Migration Agenda 2015 and establishment of „hotspots“

The European Agenda on Migration will be presented by the Commission in 2015. In order to facilitate legal migration to the EU, the "EU Blue Card" for highly qualified persons will be revised in the following years. More detailed information on the EU Blue Card and further legal migration opportunities to the EU I have summarized on my blog. The cooperation with countries of origin will also be strengthened again.

The surveillance of Europe's external borders is being pushed forward; trafficking boats are to be destroyed. Here, too, the aim is to facilitate legal migration and prevent irregular immigration. To stop migration more quickly and to combat them. In this way, the Agenda is part of the EU's Global Approach to Migration. The Externalization is increasingly being expanded, thus shifting the EU's border policy to third countries. 

In addition, the establishment of "hotspots", i.e. closed centres where protection seekers are registered and security checks take place, is decided. In the same year, intra-European Walls and Fencesas in Hungary, Slovenia and Austriaand many people have been prevented from travelling further. Many countries are closing their borders and using more offensive violence against those seeking protection. Refugees on the Balkan route are being guarded with barbed wire, dog patrols, Pepper spray, tear gas and water cannons prevented from continuing their journey. 

Operation Sophia

Since 2016, the European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVOR MED) as part of the Operation Sophia the so-called Libyan coast guard. The self-declared goal is to combat smuggling and human trafficking. This goes back to a decision by the European Council. Also armed Soldiers from Germany are involved. The rescue of people in distress at sea, which is obligatory anyway, is also envisaged.

In the same year, the Commission changes its strategy on migration and on dealing with third countries: In the framework of the Partnership Frameworks the focus is placed on deportation. If third countries fail to cooperate in taking back migrants, the Commission threatens them with consequences, for example in terms of trade and development policy. Thus, crucial EU assistance is linked to cooperation in migration policy. 

EU-Turkey Deal 2016

On 20 March 2016, the EU-Turkey deal in force. Since then, protection seekers have been systematically detained on the islands and deported back to Turkey. Syrian protection seekers who reach the Greek islands "irregularly" are to be brought back to Turkey. For each of these people, another Syrian person is to be resettled from Turkey to the EU. Even if people from Syria are resettled in the EU, the statement ignores refugees from other countries, such as Iran or Afghanistan, who often suffer hardship in Turkey.

There are numerous pushbacks to Turkey, from where many people face deportation to Syria. You can read more about the agreement in a Conversation with Gerald Knaus, Maximilian Pichl and me. In September of the same year, without the involvement of parliament, an agreement is reached with Afghanistan on the repatriation of refugees in order to carry out large-scale deportations to the country, which has been in disarray for decades. More on the JWF Agreementyou'll find here

Malta Declaration 2017 and cooperation with Libyan militias

The Declaration by Malta was signed by the European heads of government on 3 February 2017. As a result, EU funds will be used to establish and support the Libyan coast guard, define a Libyan SAR zone and set up a coordination centre in Libya. This means that the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre is no longer responsible for coordinating SAR activities in international waters off the Libyan coast. Instead, this task now lies with the Libyan Coast Guard. This leads, among other things, to people being sent back to the country of civil war (so-called pullbacks) instead of being brought to a safe port.

Thus, civilian sea rescue ships are also ordered to take rescued people back to Libya, where they are threatened with torture, imprisonment, forced labour and murder. By no means can a port in Libya be described as safe for those seeking protection. Here the EU is making itself partly responsible for the inhumane treatment of people. SOS-MEDITERRANEAN explains: "With the Malta Declaration, the European Union has laid the foundations for a massive breach of international law, financed with European taxpayers' money." 

New migration and asylum pact

Work is currently underway on a new Migration and asylum pact worked: In September 2020, the Commission will propose a draft to allow Member States to assist deportations instead of taking in protection seekers: In 2019, before the pact proposal was published, the previous Parliament agreed with the Council on a reform of Frontex's mandate. The so-called Regulation on the European Border and Coast Guard Agency II broadly expands Frontex's mandate: from 1700 Border Officers:in 2019, the agency is expected to increase to 10,000 border agents by 2027. Border procedures, i.e. Asylum procedures under detention conditions at the border, should become the norm.

We Greens have a Alternative proposal which is based on genuine and binding solidarity. We are in favour of open asylum procedures that take into account the preferences of those seeking protection and the readiness of local communities to receive them. We will work to ensure that human rights are not further restricted and that access to fair asylum procedures is guaranteed. We must constantly ask ourselves where we want to go, what goals we are pursuing with European migration policy, how we want to appear externally and internally. In doing so, we must never forget that the future of Europe can only be based on human dignity and equality.  

Other sources:

Dr. P. Bendel, M. Haase: Third phase: Migration policy as a Community task (since 1999). In bpb, 29.1.2008. Available online at https://www.bpb.de/gesellschaft/migration/dossier-migration-ALT/56531/seit-1999

J. Grosser: Supranationalisation from Amsterdam to Lisbon (1997-2007). In: Treffpunkt Europa, 13.06.2020. Available online at Supranationalisation from Amsterdam to Lisbon (1997-2007) – treffpunkteuropa.de

M. Haase, J.C. Jugl: EU asylum and refugee policy. In bpb, 27.11.2007. Available online at https://www.bpb.de/gesellschaft/migration/dossier-migration-ALT/56551/asyl-fluechtlingspolitik?p=all

English-language literature:

Bialasiewicz, Luiza (2012): Off-shoring and Out-sourcing the Borders of EUrope. Libya and EU Border Work in the Mediterranean. In: Geopolitics 17 (4), pp. 843-866.

Crépeau, Francois (2015): Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. UN Doc. A/HRC/29/36. Report presented at the Human Rights Council, 29th Session. Geneva.

Gaibazzi, Paolo; Dünnwald, Stephan; Bellagamba, Alice (eds.) (2017): EurAfrican Borders and Migration Management. Political Cultures, Contested Spaces, and Ordinary Lives. New York, s.l.: Palgrave Macmillan US (Palgrave Series in African Borderlands Studies).

Papagianni, Georgia (2013): Forging an External EU Migration Policy. From Externalisation of Border Management to a Comprehensive Policy? In: European Journal of Migration and Law 15 (3), pp. 283-299.

Wierich, Andrea (2011): Solving Problems Where They Are Made? The European Neighbour-hood Policy and Its Effects on the Context of Other Migration-Related Policies of the European Union. In: Perspectives on European Politics and Society 12 (3), pp. 225-241.

Question: Situation of persons seeking protection on the Greek islands

On 12 March, I sent the Commission a question to find out what specific plans were being made to improve the situation on the Greek islands. The answer states that the accommodation has improved since the fire in Moria. However, even eight months after the fire, the residents do not notice much of this. The situation is far from being humane and meeting EU standards. The Commission writes: „The Greek authorities have confirmed that the residents of the new centre will be able to enter and leave the camp at will.“ Currently, people are not allowed to move freely and are locked up. The Commission claims here that this will be different in the new camps, but the Greek government continues to speak publicly of closed campswhich are to be built there. Here the Greek Government seems to be making different promises to the public than to the Commission.

You will find my collected questions to the Commission and the replies here.

My request

The situation of those seeking protection on the Greek islands still doesn't meet minimum European standards. Thousands of people have been exposed to a record winter in tents. There is still no running water on Lesvos, and only 23 of the showers were supplied with hot water in January - in sub-zero temperatures and snow. In a report of the EU Task Force Lesvos from the beginning of February, the Commission says that all tents have been winterized. Moreover, the weather is dry for long stretches in winter, and temperatures on the island are rarely below 10 degrees Celsius. At the same time, the Greek government is pushing ahead with the construction of closed and guarded centres with the help of EU funds.

1.what improvements in terms of the minimum humanitarian standards required and freedom of movement are there in relation to the Moria camp in the new Kara Tepe camp?

2. on 3 February 2021 the local parliament in Mytilini adopted a resolution providing for the establishment of an EU-funded closed and guarded camp for a total of 3 500 people. What measures does the Commission intend to take to ensure that its promise to Parliament that the camps at the external borders will not become closed camps is implemented?

3. there are increasing indications that the undignified temporary camp will continue to exist next winter. What is the timetable for the establishment of decent housing and how is the Commission ensuring that it is adhered to?

Answer given by Ylva Johansson on behalf of the European Commission on 19.05.2021

The Mavrovouni camp was set up on a temporary basis in order to provide people with immediate shelter after the fires in Moria. The Commission and the Greek authorities have since been working to improve reception conditions. To this end, the Commission is providing funding, operational and technical assistance. Work on water and electricity supply, sanitation and ballasting is continuing area by area. Hot water showers and toilets have been installed. The medical area is being upgraded and medical supplies are being provided. The Commission and the Greek authorities will continue to work on additional improvements.

The protection and improvement of living conditions for asylum seekers in Greece is a priority for the Commission. The existing centres on the islands will be replaced by multifunctional reception and identification centres in line with the EU acquis and standards. The Commission is providing substantial financial support, on condition that the new centres comply with the relevant acquis. The Greek authorities have confirmed that the residents of the new centre will be able to enter and leave the camp at will. The establishment of a system of access cards should ensure the security of the centres. The agreement on the joint pilot project on Lesvos provides for the Commission to be consulted on the centre's procedures.

Work on the islands is at different stages of planning and construction. The Greek authorities confirmed their commitment to complete the centres by the end of 2021. The Commission is working with the Greek authorities through a dedicated Task Force and is monitoring the progress of the work, including through monthly Steering Committee meetings involving all relevant stakeholders.

Letter to the Commission: Lead exposure in the new Moria

Since the new Mavrovouni (Kara Tepe) camp on Lesvos opened in September 2020, there have always been serious concerns about lead contamination in the former military area, in addition to all the other disastrous living conditions. Over 6,000 people live on land that has been proven to be contaminated with lead, putting pregnant women and children at play at particular risk. Together with many other MEPs, I have therefore supported an open letter to the EU Commission.

In January of this year, the government published "results" of an investigation, which, however, deliberately included only very incomplete tests. But even the lead levels measured there are alarmingly high. The Greek government is trying to justify this by setting unsuitable and dangerously high limits for these conditions.

We call on the European Commission to urge the Greek authorities to relocate all camp inmates immediately to less contaminated areas. Until then, all residents must be fully informed about the dangers of lead poisoning. In addition, blood tests must be provided free of charge, primarily for children under the age of two, who are particularly at risk. The health and safety of these people is at great risk. They must not be kept locked up in these conditions any longer, and certainly not for another winter.

The full letter to the Commission and all signatories can be found here.

Inquiry about the "temporary" camp Mavrovouni on Lesbos

Refugees are no longer allowed to simply leave the new Moria on Lesbos. I have asked the Commission questions about these conditions.

The Commissioner writes in her answer to my parliamentary question asking about push-backs at the Greek-Turkish maritime border and the role of the EU border and coast guard Frontex: „An effective and well-functioning Agency for the management of external borders, which guarantees the protection of fundamental rights in the exercise of its functions, is one of the Commission's priorities.
And yet the Commission, Frontex and EU Member States are doing their utmost to avoid any responsibility for the systematic and serious violations of fundamental rights that put asylum seekers at risk every day.

Here you can find the complete request on the homepage of the European Parliament.

I put the following question to the EU Commission on 1 February:

Subject: Living conditions in the "temporary" Mavrovouni camp on Lesbos.

Since the beginning of November, refugees have not been allowed to leave the new Kara Tepe (Mavrovouni) camp on Lesvos, except for particularly important appointments. This is justified by the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The people seeking protection are now de facto locked up.

After a visit on 28/11/2020, Minister Mitarakis declared the measures to winterize the camp complete, although the living conditions are still completely inadequate.

The camp is located on a disused firing range, so there are serious grounds for suspecting that the site is contaminated with lead. The Commission is apparently relying here on the unconfirmed information provided by the Greek authorities, who have still not been able to provide independent laboratory tests of the soil three months after the camp was opened. In addition, the Greek Government refers to the new camps as 'closed controlled structures', and journalists have been banned from entering the camp for months.

(1) Does the Commission consider the condition of a camp in which there are only exceptional exit possibilities to be a closed camp or a detention centre?

2. how the Commission justifies the failure to comply with the reception directive at the camp, and what measures have been taken to prevent health risks at the firing range?

3. how the Commission ensures that EU funds are not used for closed camps?

Answer given by Commissioner Ylva Johansson on behalf of the European Commission on 19.4.2021:

In the context of the COVID 19 pandemic, the Greek authorities have adopted restrictive public health measures that apply nationwide and include the reception centres. Residents of reception and accommodation centres are only allowed to enter and leave them for specific reasons. These reasons include meeting basic needs or ongoing asylum procedures.

Progress is being made in the work carried out with the support of the Commission's Task Force on Migration Management to improve the reception conditions at the Mavrovouni Temporary Reception and Identification Centre (RIC). The Hellenic Survey of Geology and Mineral Exploration took soil samples and tested them for lead contamination in order to verify that the accommodation in this Reception and Identification Centre is not dangerous. The results and details of the investigations are publicly available. Of the 12 soil samples taken, one sample, taken near an administrative area, was above the limit. The Greek authorities have fenced off the area, applied new soil, poured a concrete foundation in the administrative area and applied an additional metre of soil over the entire area. A new inspection will be carried out once the work has been completed.

The new centre on Lesvos will be a multi-functional centre with technical arrangements allowing residents to enter and leave the centre with access cards.

Refugees in Greece receive money from the EU through this programme

In order to support the protection seekers on the Greek islands, the UNHCR has set up a Cash Assistance Programme. Under this scheme, a fixed monthly amount is transferred to an account for the protection seekers, which they can then dispose of freely. 

In principle, the Cash Assistance Programme is intended to offer people seeking protection the opportunity to organise their basic needs according to their individual requirements. It is intended to give them a degree of autonomy in a situation in which they are otherwise unable to shape their own living conditions. At the same time, an attempt is made to build up relationships with the population, to make it easier for them to settle in and to support the local economy. 

It is not comparable to an income or social assistance, to which there is a legal entitlement, but is intended to support people in shaping their own opportunities to provide for themselves. 

Who gets money? 

To determine who is entitled to the payment, the Greek government, together with the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid, agreed on a list of criteria: 

  • Arrived in Greece after 1 January 2015 
  • Registered by the Greek authorities and residing in Greece
  • Provisional or completed registration by the determining authority
  • Official document issued by the Greek Government confirming their identity and residence status.
  • Over 18 years old 
  • Living in camps or other accommodation (protection seekers in private accommodation are excluded) 
  • Not employed by an NGO or UN agency
  • Not employed and without income 

How will the money be distributed?

The money, 99.80% of which comes from the European Union, is distributed by a consortium called the Greece Cash Alliance (GCA) in cooperation with the Greek Ministry of Migration Policy. The GCA consists of the UNHCR, Catholic Relief Services, International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, International Federation of the Red Cross and Samaritan's Purse. 

The people who are supported receive a "UNHCR Greece Cash Alliance Card", which works like any other giro card in Greece. This means that money can be withdrawn as well as paid with the card in the shops. The cards only work in Greece and will be permanently deactivated if attempted to be used outside. Those seeking protection are required to regularly certify their presence in the country and their current eligibility to one of the GCA partners.

How long will those seeking protection be supported? 

There is no minimum or maximum period. Protection seekers are supported until they no longer meet the requirements. This means that the protection seekers are actually always only safe until the next appointment with the GCA partner that it continues. Of course, it is possible to change the requirements and this also leads to the fact that money is no longer paid out to certain persons. It is also possible that the amount of money will change. Here it is unclear on what benchmarks the amount is measured and on what basis who determines changes. Currently in Greece, for example, the number of meals received in the camps is deducted from the monthly amounts. 

How much and where does the money come from? 

A total of €83 779 826.13 was distributed in 2020. Broken down to February 2021, 64 726 people in Greece received Cash Assistance, with a total of 37245 cards in circulation. This makes a total amount of almost €7.3 million for February 2021. 

Currently, the amounts are so high: 

Amount in places where regular meals are provided 

Single person over 18 90€
Couple, parent and child140€
family of 3190€
family of 4240€
family of 5290€
family of 6310€
Family of 7 or more330€

Amount in places where regular meals are not provided 

Single person over 18 150€
Couple, parent and child280€
family of 3340€
family of 4400€
family of 5450€
family of 6500€
Family of 7 or more550€

Study shows: EU Commission may finance sea rescue operations

I have commissioned a study ( German / English), which examines which legal obligations and competences the European Union has in sea rescue. This also applies to EU military operations.

In March 2020, the EU decided to launch the Marine Emission Irinito monitor arms smuggling into Libya using satellite information, at sea and from the air. This military operation is taking place in the Eastern Mediterranean, far from the central flight route across the Mediterranean. This extremely deadly route is the only way for many people seeking protection to reach the EU. 

Irini has so far not a single person rescued from distress at sea. The predecessor mission Sophia, on the other hand, rescued around 45,000 people from 2015. However, under pressure from EU states, the ships now bypass the migration routes so as not to have to rescue people. Nevertheless, the German government is in favour of continuing Irini. Currently 19 German soldiers are participating in the mission. In the past, doubts have also arisen as to whether the mission can even achieve its goal of enforcing the arms embargo to Libya.

People continue to drown in the Mediterranean

Although fewer and fewer people are fleeing across the central Mediterranean, there has been a steady increase in death and missing person rates. In the first three months of 2021 alone are already over 300 people drowned in the Mediterranean. 

It is often argued that people would no longer put themselves in danger if there were no sea rescue. But in reality, the conditions in Libya, especially for people from sub-Saharan Africa, are so inhumane that people continue to flee. Even without rescue at sea, people board unseaworthy boats in the hope of reaching land on their own.. Even without rescue at sea, it is even more perilous for many people to reach Malta or Italy by rubber dinghy than it already is. The widespread accusation of a pull effect through civilian sea rescue missions has also already been contradicted in previous studies.

Rescue at sea is criminalised instead of supported 

So far, it is mainly civilian organisations that are carrying out sea rescue operations. In doing so, they are increasingly criminalised by EU states, as the political interest is primarily focused on preventing people from fleeing the inhumane conditions in Libya. To this end, the Libyan coast guard is being financed, which uses Frontex reconnaissance aircraft to bring people back to Libya from their flight at sea and intern them in camps. This practice has been described in several expert opinions as contrary to international law.

The European Commission claims that sea rescue operations outside its Area of expertise This is also confirmed by the European Council. It is the task of the littoral states to carry out sea rescue operations. Unfortunately, a governmental EU sea rescue mission with the participation of the Member States is not realistic in the next few years, although it is foreseeable that people will continue to drown in the Mediterranean. The Member States will not agree on a mission and it would be too easy to keep calling for things that will not happen.

EU Commission can step in and finance sea rescue operations

But there is a way out. If the EU Commission is serious about its repeatedly stated intentions to support sea rescue, it could provide financial support to non-governmental organisations and thus set up a civilian European Sea Rescue Mission. The agreement of the Member States is not required for this. This is also stated in the expert opinion commissioned by me from the law firm Redeker/Dahs/Sellner: "According to the current legal situation, financial assistance to non-governmental organisations and international institutions working to rescue refugees in distress at sea is possible, in particular, pursuant to Article 214 (3) TFEU in conjunction with the Regulation on humanitarian aid (Regulation (EC) No 1257/96)."

In short, the European Commission could fund a non-governmental sea rescue mission and thus ensure effective sea rescue. This has now also been proven by the comprehensive legal opinion.

New EU agreement facilitates deportations to Afghanistan

Afghanistan, ahead of Syria, is considered to be the most most dangerous country in the world. Despite this, deportations to Afghanistan are taking place, and despite this, the EU has once again adopted an agreement that is intended to further facilitate deportations to Afghanistan. This document, drawn up between the Commission and the Council, was signed at the beginning of February without the EU Parliament having any say in the matter. 

New Afghanistan Agreement

The new repatriation agreement JDMC (Joint Declaration on Migration Cooperation) replaces the Joint Way Forward (JWF) agreement negotiated in 2016. In terms of content, the new agreement is a further step backwards for those seeking protection from the country, which has been ravaged by war and economic crisis. In my November article I explained the JWF and its importance for deportations, as well as the situation for protection seekers from Afghanistan. Numerous civic organizations opposed the extension of the JWF agreement. The new return agreement is based on the JWF agreement, but there are a number of changes:

Thus, the definition of vulnerable groups more narrowly defined. From now on, deportations of sick people should only be suspended for people who suffer from a very serious illness and - this concretion is new – cannot be treated in Afghanistan. The latter will probably be very difficult to prove in concrete cases. The possibility for deportations will also be facilitated, as the definition of a family unit will be limited to parents and minor children. In addition, all EU member states are to participate in deportations to Afghanistan, regardless of any bilateral agreements with the civil war country. The agreement allows for joint deportations of up to 50 people per flight, with a total of up to 500 people to be deported per month in the future, although this number can be increased. In the previous agreement, there was an unofficial agreement that there would be no more than one flight per week from Europe. This will now be significantly increased, but it can be assumed that the Afghan Government will not accept a figure of more than 500 per week. 

While the JWF agreement is valid for two years, the new framework is unlimited in time through the JDMC. Instead, the new agreement can only be suspended after consultation and at a certain point in the year.

tightened security

After the end of the first round of negotiations in Afghanistan in December 2020, the Doha peace talks resumed at the end of February 2021, but progress is very slow. There is no ceasefire and the security situation is increasingly deteriorating. Violence is at its highest level in the last 20 years, and in recent months there has been an increase in targeted attacks on journalists, human rights activists and civil servants. The EU Commissioner for Conflict Management, Janez Lenarčič, recently stated in his report that Travelogue to the civil war-torn country, that the conflict was permeating every corner of the country, causing millions of civilians to be displaced and seek refuge inside and outside the country. Afghanistan has the second largest number of refugees and internally displaced persons in the world. In total, almost half the population depend on humanitarian aid. Without it, 16.9 million people in Afghanistan would be at risk of starvation. The pandemic and natural disasters further exacerbate the situation. The country is suffering one of the biggest food crises in the world.

EU states still want to deport

Even the sick and people undergoing treatment are not protected from deportation. Only in February, against widespread protest, Germany introduced a further Collective deportation of 26 people to Afghanistan, although the Administrative Court of Baden-Württemberg had previously ruled in a Case-by-case decision declared a deportation to the country unlawful in connection with the current coronalage. The reason for this was the impossibility of meeting the most basic needs of food, shelter and hygiene. But the deportations continue. In 2020, the recognition rate of asylum applicants from Afghanistan was about 53 %However, it varies greatly between the different Member States and is thus like a lottery for people who have made it to Europe under the most difficult conditions. For example, it was in Bulgaria at 1%, in the Netherlands at 42%. If they return to Afghanistan, the chances of renewed immediate displacement are very high.

What can the European Parliament do?

The European Parliament has no say in the drafting and adoption of the agreement and can only resort to general rights of control. At the same time, it should be emphasised that, at least in Germany, deportations are mostly carried out on the basis of a bilateral agreement with Afghanistan. Nevertheless, I will try to get the issue on the EP agenda in the coming weeks and organise an exchange with the Commission. I would like to know what conditions are attached to EU funds for Afghanistan and where the money goes. In particular, chain deportations, in which people are deported to Afghanistan who are not even from the country, must be prevented. Only one Fraction of the refugees from Afghanistan come to Europe at all, a large part is taken in by the neighbouring countries Pakistan (1.42 million in 2020) and Iran (951000 in 2020). – of a total of 2.7 million refugees These countries must be supported by the EU, we need a better distribution of responsibility, which is also called for in the Global Compact for Refugees. Progressive and people-friendly solutions should be highlighted and mobilised. Afghanistan is not and will not remain safe in the near future, which is why we must continue to prevent deportations to the country.

Five years of the EU-Turkey deal: How time was bought and not used

Five years ago, the European Council and the Commission agreed with Turkey on on a deal. 

The deal was meant to prevent people from Turkey from fleeing to Europe in greater numbers. The zenith of the 2015 crisis, in which hundreds of thousands came to Europe, had long since been exceeded and the arrival figures have already dropped significantly. Nevertheless, the aim was to prevent people from continuing to flee to Europe via Turkey. 

The deal was a precedent for a policy that seeks to externalise the EU's borders: The border to the EU should no longer be at the EU's external borders, but already in Turkey or North Africa. The heads of state have not yet been able to agree on a robust asylum system for the EU. The only thing they have agreed on so far is that people should be stopped outside the EU, and those who do arrive are often housed in inhumane mass camps like Moria.

What was agreed in the EU-Turkey deal?

Turkey agreed to take measures to prevent irregular migration. In return the country was promised billions in aid. The deal also stipulated that Syrian refugees who nevertheless reached the Greek islands irregularly from Turkey would be returned to Turkey. For each person returned, one person who had fled Syria was to be resettled from Turkey to the EU. This part of the deal was never actually implemented. Between the first quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2020, approximately 27,000 Syrian refugees were resettled from all over Turkey to EU countries. Especially in the last year, hardly any people were resettled. So in recent years, less than 1% of Syrian refugees in Turkey have had the opportunity to come to Europe legally.

In return for the prevention of flight from Turkey, Ankara was also to receive accelerated visa facilitation for its citizens. However, these visa facilitations do not exist until today, to which Turkey regularly refers. In fact, Turkey has never met all the conditions for visa facilitation. However, since complying with the rules was not realistic even five years ago, one can assume that Turkey expects the facilitations as a bonus away from the usual procedure.

The most important and expensive point of the agreement was the payment of a total of 6 billion euros for various projects to support Syrian refugees in Turkey. Contrary to some claims, the money was actually flowing and much of it had already arrived. 

The commitments made at the time show, above all, that the Heads of State and Government were prepared to make very large concessions in order for the deal to take effect. The European Parliament was not involved in the negotiation of the deal. 

Legally questionable decisions

The decisions to implement the EU-Turkey deal were already legally questionable. The Greek government under Alexis Tsipras at the time was pressured into pushing a bad law through its parliament so that the deal could be implemented. Greece recognised Turkey as a "safe third countryso that it is easier to deport people there. At the same time, thousands of people have fled and are still fleeing from Turkey itself due to political persecution. Turkey is not only not a safe country for all refugees. It is not even a safe country for many of its own citizens. Greece had little choice at the time, as they were threatened that closing the northern Macedonian border would leave them alone with the refugees crossing Europe.

By returning Syrians to Turkey, the EU is also supporting a policy that ultimately amounts to deportations to Syria, because it expects Turkey to "take all necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes from opening up to illegal migration“".

In the meantime, European authorities are systematically pushing people from Greece to Turkey or deporting them illegally. This is an attempt to reduce dependence on Turkey at the expense of human rights and dignity and to decimate the number of people seeking protection in Europe.  In Turkey, on the other hand, war refugees from Syria are threatened with deportation to their home country. This is life-threatening for many. The people are not only threatened by the acts of war, but also by the torture prisons of the Assad regime, in which tens of thousands of people disappeared. Among them also people, who returned to Syria, or forced to return. 

The fact that fewer people are actually coming at the moment is not just because of the EU-Turkey deal. It is because of the pandemic and the systematic pushback by the Greek authorities. Fewer people are not coming because of the deal, but because EU states are trampling fundamental human rights underfoot.

As a result of the deal, Turkey also sealed off the Syrian border, so the EU-Turkey deal also contributed to making it increasingly difficult to flee the Syrian civil war.

Europe makes itself vulnerable to blackmail 

In the last five years, Turkey has witnessed the European Union's capacity for blackmail on many occasions. Turkey has imprisoned opposition activists and journalists, marched with German Leopard-2 tanks in Syria and is fighting minorities in its own country. Particularly with regard to the invasion of Syria, many EU officials have been silent. Criticism of serious human rights violations is voiced, but it rarely has real political consequences, for fear that Turkey could open the borders to Greece and Bulgaria. 

The fact that the European Union still did not have a robust asylum system based on the rule of law, years after it bought itself time with the Turkey deal, took its revenge in March 2020. I myself experienced this on the ground in Lesbos a year ago. 

After Erdoğan announced an opening of the border and suddenly there were several thousand people at the external border, Greece reacted with force and simply suspended the fundamental right to asylum. That was unlawful. The Greek coast guard started shooting in the direction of rubber dinghies full of people instead of rescuing them. Boats were left in distress for hours instead of intervening immediately. A girl drowned while trying to get to Lesbos, although they could have been saved. The Greek police fired live ammunition at people and very likely killed several people in the process, for example Muhammad Gulzar. 

These actions were justified at the time with military rhetoric. The President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, described Greece as a "Protective Shield of Europe." 

The government in Ankara realised very well at the time that it could blackmail the EU by allowing a few thousand people to cross towards the EU border or even taking them there in buses. It's no wonder that on the international stage no one takes seriously a community of states that allows itself to be blackmailed by the arrival of refugees on a few rubber dinghies. 

In the EU, they try to justify this policy because they are afraid of a new 2015. But the many millions of people who are sitting on packed suitcases in Turkey to come to the EU don't exist. When Erdoğan opened the borders a year ago, not hundreds of thousands came, but only a few thousand. Among them, hardly anyone was from Syria, although Turkey is home to more than 3.5 million Syrians. Most of the refugees in Turkey live near the Syrian border. They wish to return or have settled in Turkey in recent years. Many have learned the language and found work. Most of these people do not want to go to the EU at all. 

Not everything is bad about the deal

Not everything about the deal is bad. And of course it's good for the EU to help refugees in Turkey. The EU-Turkey deal contains a list of important commitments, some of which are good and necessary. These include financial support to give Syrian refugees access to education, healthcare and the labour market. It has been made easier to allocate the funds needed for this purpose. Much of the pledged six billion euros has been launched in the meantime. 

With these funds, hundreds of thousands of children from Syria were able to attend school, people were able to see a doctor or were helped to learn the language. Much of the money went directly to aid organizations, even though the Turkish government pushed for more money to be transferred to government agencies in Turkey. Nor should the funding of the Turkish Ministry of Health and Education be condemned per se.

One of the problems with the deal, however, is that the lack of parliamentary oversight and accountability means it is not clear which projects have been successful and how.

Unfortunately, some sensible aspects of the EU-Turkey deal, such as the creation of legal escape routes, have not been adequately implemented. And despite the money from the EU, the reception conditions for refugees often do not meet humanitarian standards and real access to state services or the labour market exists for many only on paper, but not in reality. 

And what was to come next?

There is a lot of talk about the causes of flight, but they are rarely the focus of action. Instead, European asylum policy is too often shaped by short-term goals. For a future agreement, it would make sense to keep the promises of legal escape routes and redistribution and to focus on the causes of flight from Turkey instead of dysfunctional return mechanisms. The aim must be that people who have fled to Turkey do not have to flee to Europe first in order to finally be safe. However, we will not achieve this by violating human rights at the external borders, but by supporting Turkey in creating prospects for refugees. 

That is why the successful programmes in Turkey should be continued and expanded. It would be important that they not only reach people from Syria, but also the many hundreds of thousands of other refugees who come from Afghanistan, for example. One has bought time with the deal as Europe above all at the expense of human rights. Tragically, this time has not been used, but five years later the situation is worse than before: human rights violations at the external borders have now become systematic and the mass camps at the external borders serve more as a deterrent than as humane accommodation for those seeking protection. Nor has a system for the redistribution of protection seekers in the EU or the creation of legal escape routes been achieved since 2016. According to UN figures, the number of refugees worldwide has risen by around 15 million people in the last five years, despite all protestations about combating the causes of flight.

These legal migration possibilities to the EU exist

There are too few legal migration opportunities to the EU. This is a particular problem for refugees, who often have to risk their lives to apply for asylum. 

Because the EU fails to create legal escape and migration routes, people die trying to reach Europe. The EU's externalisation policy is designed to prevent people from entering European soil well before Europe's borders. This makes it very difficult for those seeking protection to apply for asylum in the EU. Despite some assurances to create increased opportunities for legal entry, little has been done in this regard. In the following, I will explain the options available to people who want to migrate legally to the EU. 

In principle, there is the possibility to enter with the "EU Blue Card" or a valid visa. Those who do not have a valid visa or the EU Blue Card can apply for asylum. 

In the year 2019 2.9 million people from third countries were granted residence permits. 41% of them obtained a work permit, 27% came to the EU for family reasons and 14% of people for educational purposes. In addition, there were 631 579 asylum applications. Legal migration accounts for the largest share of migration to the EU. In contrast, the number of illegalised border crossings is only 141 700 cases.  

In migration policy, the EU and the Member States share some responsibilities, which makes it difficult to introduce EU-wide rules on migration. While the EU can set entry requirements and residence conditions for people from third countries, it is up to the member states to implement them. They can determine how many people from third countries they grant entry and work permits to. The EU can promote the admission and integration of third-country nationals through appropriate frameworks and incentives, but national rules apply. 

The EU Blue Card 

The EU blue card was introduced in 2008 and adapted in 2017 after some shortcomings. This accelerated procedure is intended to create attractive conditions for highly qualified third-country nationals. Highly qualified persons with a university degree and an employment contract in Germany with a minimum annual income of €50,800 can enter the EU and work here with the EU Blue Card; the same applies to highly qualified persons from an area where there is a shortage of skilled workers in the EU with an employment contract with a minimum annual salary of €39,624.
More information on the Blue Card can be found at Infomigrants and in the Visaguide.


Who has a valid Visa can enter the country by plane and check in after the Schengen Borders Code move within the Schengen area. In this case, a request for asylum can be expressed orally. Those who were able to enter without a valid passport must go through an airport procedure by the police in the transit area. In the case of a refusal, an entry ban is issued. This can be appealed against. If the airport procedure or an objection lodged against it is positive, an asylum procedure is initiated.

Humanitarian visas

In addition, Member States may issue humanitarian visas to people who are not yet recognised as refugees. These can legally enter the Member State and apply for asylum here. A common European framework for this does not yet exist.

In the case of positively decided asylum applications within the meaning of the Geneva Refugee Commission or subsidiary protection, people can be relocated from one Member State to another. Here, people who have been granted international protection are entitled to similar rights as in the country of first entry. This procedure is known as Relocation known.  

An overview of the possibilities for persons seeking protection in Germany to obtain a residence permit can be found at here. Infomigrants describes the legal migration possibilities to the EU in English.

Labour migration

For the highly qualified, students and scientists, seasonal workers and people moving within companies, there are legal guidelines to facilitate migration. 

For the approximately 100,000 seasonal workers:inside in the EU regulates the Directive 2014/36/EU  the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals. These are particularly employed in the tourism and agricultural sectors. They may legally reside in the EU for a period of between five and nine months in order to work seasonally. During this period, however, their main place of residence must also be in the third country in question. 

The Directive 2014/66/EU regulates the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals in the framework of a intragroup transfers. Anyone employed outside the EU in an international company can be transferred to a branch or subsidiary within the EU. 

For international trainees, students and scientists, and for Exchange students and volunteers, au pairs and educational travellers applies the Directive (EU) 2016/801. This allows students and academics to remain in the EU for a further nine months after completing their studies or research in order to find work or set up a business. Researchers are also allowed to bring family members to the EU. In the programme Erasmus+ non-EU citizens can also participate. 

Family reunion

If a family member is already legally residing in the EU, family members may join them. The Directive 2003/86/EC sets the framework for this. Thus, spouses, minor children and the children of the spouse may join them. Member States may also allow the reunification of unmarried partners, adult children and dependent parents and grandparents. The reunited family members will receive a residence permit corresponding to the already migrated family member and can apply for an independent permit after a maximum of five years. 

However, Member States may set certain criteria to authorise family reunification. For example, reunification may be linked to financial resources, suitable accommodation and health insurance, as well as "integration measures". In addition, there may be a maximum two-year waiting period. If, in the view of the authorities, there is a risk to public order, public safety or public health, the application may be rejected. Fraudulent cases such as fictitious adoption or fictitious marriage may be punished. If the applicant has been recognised as a refugee, the criteria for granting family reunification are somewhat milder. 

The regulations can be read here


"Resettlement means the transfer of third-country nationals in need of international protection from a third country to an EU Member State which will receive them and grant them protection."

A prerequisite for resettlement is that the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) decides that the person qualifies as a refugee under the Geneva Convention and that resettlement is the most appropriate procedure. Stateless people who do not qualify as refugees under the Geneva Convention may also be resettled. After selection by UNHCR, cases are submitted to potential host states, which decide whether to grant or refuse resettlement. The criteria of each member state and the time for resettlement vary.

Those who come to the EU under the resettlement procedure are protected against refoulement to third countries and have rights similar to those of nationals. The same applies to family members. In addition, there is the possibility of obtaining citizenship oneself. 

The European Resettlement Network explains the individual steps in the resettlement procedure and shows possibilities of obtaining a residence permit within the EU via the procedure. 

An overview of the resettlement procedure from the European Parliament's scientific service can be found at EPRS read up.

ARAPs (active refugee admission policies)

In addition, there is the possibility for states to adopt their own active policies for the reception of protection seekers. For example, new reception instruments such as private partnerships and emergency evacuations are currently being tested. Private partnerships are based on private support and funding for protection seekers. Emergency evacuations are linked to more flexible conditions than traditional resettlement procedures and are more likely to lead to temporary protection status. There is also the possibility of coming to Europe through scholarship programmes.

These ARAPS (active refugee admission policies) are voluntary. There is a risk that decisions on the admission of people in need of assistance will be based more on functional criteria than on humanitarian emergencies and that people will potentially experience discrimination. On the other hand, ARAPs can lead to protection seekers receiving protection through safe and legal channels. In addition, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) provides pre- and post-arrival training to promote reception and integration. 

The Escape Research Blog provides an overview of ARAPs and potential weaknesses and research gaps.

Important rights, possibilities and procedures concerning asylum in the EU can be found at here.

Anyone wishing to migrate to the EU to work, study or bring their family together can apply on the EU Immigration Portal inform 

What we demand

Legal routes to the EU need to be expanded and people need to be informed about them. We Greens call for legal and safe migration routes to the EU and flexible arrangements to facilitate family reunification and work and study within the EU for third country nationals.

We are therefore committed to the design of a EU-wide visa system for humanitarian visas a. For example, protection seekers should have more opportunities to apply for visas at embassies and consulates outside the EU so that they can enter the EU legally and safely. 

In addition, we call for a European migration code. This should protect the rights of migrants in the EU. To this end, rights within the EU must be harmonised and new and secure legal channels for migration to the EU must be created, irrespective of the migrants' qualifications and income. In particular, the rights of migrants with low incomes and low qualifications must be expanded, because the value of people is not measured in their economic usability.

There is also a need for agreements with third countries in order to avoid a brain drain in these countries. Instead, balanced partnerships should be concluded. For this, they must be decoupled from further migration control measures and readmission agreements. Partnerships could, for example, facilitate multiple entry visas and expand pilot projects.

The full position paper of the Green Group in the European Parliament on labour migration from third countries is available at here read up.